Top 5 Free Stock Photo Libraries

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One of the first things I learned as a web developer is that you can’t simply take any photo you find on Google images and use it on your website. No, most high quality photos are taken by professionals and they need to be paid to keep making awesome images.

There are lots of great sites to buy stock images, and you can find photos of practically anything you want. But there are many cases where it’s just not realistic to pay for photos. Maybe you just need to spice up your blog with a few photos, or want a nice banner for your Twitter profile. Or maybe you’re building a simple web page for a non-profit and they have zero budget.

Whatever your reason, I’ve compiled this list of 5 awesome free stock photo libraries. Note that while they are all free, some have certain restrictions on how you can use the images, but I will cover this which each site.

1. pixabay

pixabay logo

This is the first free stock image site I came across when I was first learning web development and always needed images for the test sites I would build. Boasting a collection of “over 570,000 free photos, vectors and art illustrations”, pixabay is one of the largest libraries of free stock images.

The quality of the images range from professional to cheesy 90’s clip art. So while more doesn’t always equal better, there is definitely enough good content on here to suit most of your needs. Sometimes you’ll find the perfect image on here only to realize it’s not the right ratio or quality you need, but nothing that’s free is ever going to be perfect. They also have stock video footage which is pretty cool to play around with in your designs.

The site design is attractive, modern and easy to use. All photos are 100% free to download, use and remix. You don’t need to give attribution either, but I’ll often do it anyways just to show the photographer and website some love.

2. Death to Stock

death to stock logo

This is one of the more interesting stock photo services. Death to the Stock Photo is a subscription based service. Just sign up with your e-mail and every month they send you free high quality photo packs. There is usually a theme to each pack, and its intended as a way to inspire other creatives. They have a nice explanation of it on their site.

This obviously isn’t great if you are looking for a very specific photo, but the photos are very professional and well done, so it’s a good one to have in your back pocket. I usually just download them into a folder on my computer and build my own stock photo library. It’s great to browse through every now and then when I’m looking for design inspirations.

You are allowed to use the photos however you want, with the usual restrictions: like you can’t use them to promote hate speech or on a pornography site, etc.

3. Wikimedia Commons

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Wikimedia Commons is essentially the media database for all of Wikipedia and their projects, but it’s also free for you to use. It boasts over 30 million media files including videos, sound recordings and photos.

It’s not the best option if you need sleek stock photos for your site, but it’s an amazing resource when you need something very specific. The site has a bland design that’s consistent with Wikipedia, and its usability suffers just slightly because of this, but if you are reading this article you’ll have no problem using it.

While all of the images are free to use, by what terms depends on the particular image. Most images just require you to give attribution which it specifies fairly clearly how to do so on the image’s page. Some may have different requirements, so you just have to check what is specified for each image.

4. flickr

flickr logo

flickr is one of the most popular photo sharing sites in the world. Photos range from someone’s wedding photos to professional nature photos. Any user can upload their own photos of whatever they want, so there are photos of everything. It’s more of a social network and sharing platform than a stock photo library, but you can find some amazing stuff on here.

Not all the photos are licensed to be used by anyone, so you have to go to their creative commons section. There, you can browse all the images that photographers have submitted under a creative commons license. Again, a lot of it is just random peoples photos, but I’ve also found some really amazing one’s on there, so it is definitely worth checking out.

flickr also has a section of their site called The Commons, which is different. Here they have partnered with archivists to build a collection of public photos. It’s mostly historical and vintage photos, but they are cool to look at and perfect if that’s what you need on your site. It appears that they are all public domain images so they have no copyright restrictions, but always check on the image’s page to be sure.

flickr is not my favourite on this list. Because its main function isn’t for free stock imagery, it’s not the best resource for it. I find the navigation, search function and browsing to be a bit of a poor experience on the site, and sometimes you find the perfect image only to find it doesn’t have the type of license that will allow you to use it. But at the same time I have found a lot of gems that were perfect for the project I was working on. So while it’s not my number one choice, it’s always a good last resort.

5. Pexels

pexels logo

I’ve saved what I feel is the best for last here. Pexels is a free high quality stock photo library. All the images are suitable for the most professional websites and designs. While it doesn’t have as many images as pixabay, it only has high quality images, so you don’t need to browse through a bunch of mediocre images to find the gems.

The interface is clean and a joy to use. You can download the images at whatever resolution you want, and everything is free to use without attribution for any legal purposes. You can sign up for a free account, which allows you to favourite images you want to use later. This is the first site I go to when trying to find free stock images for a new project. Often I will just browse through their images to get inspiration.

Recently they have added stock videos. Again, while the selection is a bit lacking, they have some beautiful videos for you to use on your site.

Conclusion.

Finding the right image for your website can be tricky when you have no budget, but with these sites on hand you can be sure to find something to suit your needs. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, so it’s best to use them all in conjunction.

Always make sure you read the licensing agreement on each site to be sure you aren’t violating their copyright in anyway. Each site does a good job of specifying this pretty clearly, so it’s very simple. Also, even if a site doesn’t require you to give any attribution, it’s still nice to link back to the site or photographer in some way to give them some attention. You can do this with an image caption, credits at the bottom of your page or blog post, or even as an HTML comment for other developers to see.

There are other free stock photo sites, but these are the top 5 that I use as a web developer. Let me know in the comments if you have any other suggestions.

Shomi versus Netflix. Which is better?

With more and more people cutting the cord and going with streaming services like Netflix, traditional media companies are finally trying to catch up and launch their own services in competition.

netflix versus shomi

In the U.S. you already have services like Hulu and Amazon prime, but like most things, they have failed thus far to make their way up north. So I was really excited when Rogers announced Shomi would be offered as a standalone service in August 2015. Previously it was bundled with their cable packages, which completely defeated the purpose of a streaming service, at least if you want to compete with Netflix.

I immediately signed up for the one month free trial, and having used it for over 5 months now, so I think I can give a pretty fair review of this new streaming service. I’m going to use Netflix as a baseline to compare Shomi, since it’s the first and most successful streaming service and one which most of us are now familiar with.

Pricing

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Shomi is priced at $8.99 a month and you get your first month free, so if you don’t like it you can easily cancel the service. Unlike Netflix, they don’t have different tiers for pricing. For $8.99 you get unlimited access to their content, and two active streams.

This is the most similar to Netflix’s standard plan which currently costs $9.99 per month for the same features. But Netflix lets you choose their basic plan for only $7.99 per month for only one active stream at a time and no HD streaming. You can also get the Premium plan which gives you up to four active streams and the ability to play ultra HD content, all for $11.99 per month.

So it’s a bit of a tie here. Shomi costs a dollar less for the similar Netflix package, but Netflix gives you the flexibility to choose a cheaper package.

Content

person watching static on screen

Pricing is important, but you really need to consider exactly what you are paying for. This is really subjective though, because although you can compare the total amount of content each service provides, what’s more important is how much content they have that you actually want to watch.

From my own experience I found Shomi had a lot more TV shows I hadn’t seen before. Standouts include The Last Man on Earth, Transparent, Fargo, Louie, Wilfred, The League, The Americans, Mr. Robot, Catastrophe and You’re The Worst. Those are just my personal favourites.

But Netflix also has a lot of good offerings in this department. I think because I’ve had Netflix for so long, I am already caught up on all of their shows. So it may only seem like Shomi has more TV shows, when really it just has more I haven’t seen yet.

One area where Netflix knocks it out of the park is with their original content. My favourites are House of Cards, Lillyhammer, Bojack Horseman, F is for Family, Orange is the New Black, Master of None and Love. These alone are worth the price of admission, and in addition to their catalogue of network shows they license, I think Netflix ultimately comes out the winner on this one.

In terms of movies, I’d also have to give it to Netflix because it feels like they have a lot more new releases than what Shomi is offering. But that’s not to say that Shomi doesn’t have a good catalogue of movies. I would say they possibly have a better selection when it comes to older movies than Netflix. Though I must add that I watch a lot more TV than movies these days, so this is all subjective.

If documentaries is your thing, then Netflix is easily the better service. Shomi is actually really lacking in this department. They don’t have a whole lot of Documentaries and the ones they do have, while good, are mostly older. Then when you consider that Netflix even has the most talked about documentary of early 2016 in Making a Murderer, it is clear that they have the superior catalogue.

Ultimately it’s up to you and what you like to watch, though from my experience Netflix has a superior selection of content overall. Shomi still has a very impressive catalogue that I feel is absolutely worth the $8.99 per month they charge.

UX

woman on laptop

What most people probably won’t consider when deciding whether or not they want to sign up for Shomi, is the overall user experience. Sure, the content is good and plentiful, it’s reasonably priced, but how usable is their app?

Shomi uses a fairly similar interface as Netflix on their web application. It’s essentially rows of content that you can navigate using sliders and is divided by categories. Shomi doesn’t make these rows span the full width of the page which makes each section feel a little more congested than and not as immersive as browsing Netflix. Part of this is their side menu where they display your list of things to watched and recently watched items, whereas Netflix just makes these the first two rows of content you see.

Also, Shomi only gives you about 13 rows of categories to browse. You have to go into their ‘browse’ link in the top menu to really look at their full catalogue. It’s unlike Netflix where it feels like you can endlessly browse through their library and not really have to narrow it down unless you have something particular in mind. Browsing in Shomi is just not as immersive an experience.

I also found Shomi a bit harder to navigate. They use a lot of icons in their user interface that aren’t intuitive and it takes some playing around to accomplish what you want to do at times. A simple fix for this would be adding tooltips on icons and links to let the user know what each control or link does.

Without a doubt, the worst thing about Shomi is that it uses Adobe Flash. While this used to be the standard in web development and certainly for streaming video, it just isn’t used anymore in modern web applications and for good reason. Namely, it’s super buggy and not secure. You have to constantly update it in order for the application to work properly.

Most modern browsers block flash by default for these reasons, and it creates a poor user experience for Shomi’s web application. I constantly have to enable and update my flash plugin in order to play videos at all.

Netflix uses Microsoft’s Silverlight plugin and even HTML 5 video now, which are both much more secure and perform a lot better. I’m sure it’s a lot cheaper and faster to just develop an app in flash, but it’s just not acceptable anymore on the modern web.

Of course, this isn’t a problem if you aren’t accessing Shomi through a web browser, but even here the service shows its weakness. Currently you can access Shomi on the following platforms: PC, Playstation 4, Apple TV, Chromecast and Xbox 360. It’s strange that they would support the old xbox instead of the current generation console. They have been saying Xbox One support is coming for a while now, but this has definitely been disappointing. The lack of support for Roku is even more disappointing.

I do have a couple Chromecasts, but I also use the Roku 3 on my main television. I greatly prefer the usability of the Roku versus the Chromecast, so it’s a shame when I have to borrow one of my Chromecast from another TV if I want to watch Shomi when I already have the Roku there.

Thus, Device support is definitely something you should consider when thinking of subscribing to Shomi. Unlike Netflix which works on pretty much anything, you will be a little bit more limited in how and where you can use Shomi.

Performance

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Performance is another weak point of Shomi. Video’s seem to take a lot longer to load than Netflix. Loading a standard definition video on my 25 mbps connection took over 20 seconds, while it only took 6 seconds on Netflix for the exact same video.

When I’ve used Shomi on slower connections like at hotels, this speed difference is even greater. Sometimes videos simply time out and fail to load, giving you an error. Netflix would always at least load eventually. I found that Shomi actually crashed a lot on slow connections, and sometimes on my 5th refresh or so, it would tell me too many people were watching on my account (there weren’t), essentially locking me out of my account.

The Chromecast app is also super buggy. Often it loses the connection with my phone and I can no longer control the video on the TV. In these cases I’ve had to stop and restart the app constantly to sync it back with my phone just so I can press pause or rewind the video. Usually this means I have to restart the video over again as well which is extremely frustrating.

There have been many times where using Shomi has made me want to throw my phone or computer against a wall in frustration. In fairness, Netflix wasn’t always perfect either, and in some of the early days it had its own weird bugs. Shomi and other new streaming services have to play catch up with Netflix, but the fact they are developing with Flash isn’t helping them at all.

Final Verdict (TL;DR)

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For the price and selection of content Shomi is certainly worth $8.99 per month. Though it has its performance and usability issues that often make me curse it, its content and affordability have kept me as a customer. They really need to work out these bugs and start rolling out their app on more platforms, or I do think they will lose subscribers (or never gain them to begin with).

If you can only afford one streaming service, Netflix is absolutely the way to go. It works flawlessly on all devices and arguably has better content overall. However, if you can afford both services, I definitely recommend trying Shomi as well. I’ve had both for a while now and between the two services I can always find something interesting to watch.

It’s $18.98 a month if you get both Netflix and Shomi, and that is an incredible value for the amount of content you get. It’s still cheaper than a basic cable package, and the quality of content you get is undeniably 100 times better.

So there you have it. Netflix is better than Shomi, but Shomi is still worth it. It also depends on what you like to watch. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

I Switched to DuckDuckGo and so Should You

As our lives become increasingly integrated with technology, privacy is becoming a huge concern for users. Many of the applications we use today were built without privacy in mind. As we start to see the consequences of that, the need for privacy minded alternatives grows.

Whether it be a tyrannical government, a corporation or some hacker in their parent’s basement, there is a litany of reasons you should want to protect your privacy. Yet many free services like Google exploit your data for profit. The adage goes something like “if it’s free, then you are the product”. Users have come to expect many services on the web free of charge. To imagine paying for access to a search engine or browser, it seems ridiculous.  Yet companies like Google have employees that make these services possible and they need to be paid. Thus, we pay with our personal data in order to access these services for free. It seems like a necessary evil, but many companies are challenging this line of thinking.

Enter DuckDuckGo

duckDuckGo homepage

DuckDuckGo is “the search engine that doesn’t track you”. It sounds great, but in a world where Google is king, having over 60% of the global search engine market share, is it good enough to be a complete Google alternative? I decided to find out, setting DuckDuckGo as my default search engine for a couple of weeks, to see if I could get by with only using it for my searches.

The first thing I noticed is that DuckDuckGo has a very limited amount of ads (after turning off my ad blocker of course). When I searched something like “oil change” on Google, the first three results were ads,  and there was a whole right-side column displaying more ads for oil changers. Submitting the same query on DuckDuckGo gave me only two ads, but they were displayed side by side so as to only take up the space of a single search result, and no additional right column of ads.

Thus, not only do you get significantly less ads with DuckDuckGo, but they are laid out in such a way that takes up less space in your search results. You can even go into their settings and turn off ads if you like. Though I wouldn’t recommend this, seeing as the ads fund the service and they have clearly made an effort to make them as least an intrusion as possible.

Further, duckDuckGo doesn’t violate your privacy in order to deliver you relevant ads. Rather than Google’s method of basing ads on your personal data and search history, duckDuckGo bases their ads on your search query. So if for instance, you search “Oil Change Toronto”, it will target it’s ads to oil change companies in Toronto. When you think about it, it really makes much more sense. Why do you need all my personal data to deliver relevant ads when you can simply base my ads on my search terms? It is clear what I am looking for based on my search query, so it makes more sense to base ads on that individual query.

DuckDuckGo also frees you from the search bubble, wherein sites like Google deliver you results based on your interests and content that you’ve ‘liked’, ‘shared’ or simply the types of links you tend to click on in the past. Why is this a problem? It plays into your personal bias. In other words, you are not getting the best or most correct information, but the information Google thinks you already want to hear. I suppose this is great if you want to think you already know it all, but for people like me who want to actually find the most factual information on a topic, this is a determent.

Using DuckDuckGo for regular search queries, like finding a particular website or answer to a question, I found it to be just as accurate if not more than Google, and without the additional invasion of my privacy. DuckDuckGo is the clear winner here, but what about other searches like locations, directions and maps?

DuckDuckGo doesn’t have it’s own mapping software, nor does it use any third party software with any consistency. So when I search an address, it doesn’t display a map of that location as the first result as would Google. Occasionally I would get a result using Open Street maps, but only for about 10% of my location searches. This might not be a huge deal for many people, but for me, when I want directions I am used to simply searching for the address in Google and clicking the Google Maps result that appears.

Introducing Bangs

However, as I learned more about DuckDuckGo, I realized that this actually wasn’t a huge deal because of an awesome functionality they have built into their search engine called Bangs. A bang is simply prefacing your search query with an exclamation mark and the name of a website or service. DuckDuckGo then performs a search on that site with your query. For instance, if I want directions to the Air Canada Centre (to watch the Raps of course), I can search ‘!maps Air Canada Centre’ and it will take me directly to the Google map of the ACC. You can even do a short hand ‘!gm’ or if you are a fan of Microsoft’s Bing maps use the bang ‘!bm’ or even ‘!mq’ for mapquest. Pretty nifty, but this doesn’t even touch the surface of the true power of Bangs.

Logo for duckDuckGo's 'bangs' with text underneath that reads: say hello to bangs

Looking for shoes on amazon? Just search ‘!a shoes’. Want to search for a friend on facebook? Search ‘!fb YOUR FRIENDS NAME’. Sudden urge to watch the latest Batman vs Superman trailer on Youtube? Search ‘!yt batman v superman. Maybe you want to search Wikipedia? Simply type ‘!w YOUR SUBJECT OF INTEREST’ and hit Enter.

This is such a great functionality that will save you time. You no longer have to type in your search terms and look for the website you actually want to search and then click it; simply use the relevant Bang along with your search terms and BANG! you are already there. Sure it takes a wee bit of learning since you have to learn which bangs correspond with what websites, but for the most part it is very intuitive. As mentioned above, facebook is simply ‘!fb’ and wikipedia is ‘!w’. There is a huge reference of over 6,000 Bangs, but I found myself just guessing them and getting them right for the most part anyways.

There are also a bunch of really cool aesthetic features that make duckDuckGo superior to Google. Number one is certainly endless scrolling. You know when you reach the end of the first page of search results in Google and you have to click the link to go to the next page? With duckDuckGo, as soon as you scroll to the bottom of the first set of results, it automatically loads the next set of results below it. You can stay comfortably on the first page and continue scrolling till you find the result you are looking for. It is such a simple functionality that makes the search process far more seamless and enjoyable.

DuckDuckGo is also super customizable. Although most users won’t bother, you can select from many themes and base fonts from the settings menu. As a web developer that has to sit in front of a bright screen all day, I (and my eyes) personally enjoy the ‘Terminal’ or ‘Dark’ themes. There are also more advanced setting where you can set the font and the colours of different types of links and text. Again, most people won’t bother to do any of this, but for those that do, they will certainly reap the benefits and enjoy the superior aesthetic experience, wondering why they ever used Google before.

duckDuckGo customization options panel

But you can customize much more than the appearance of duckDuckGo. You can change your default region if you want searches tailored to your geographic location, preferred unit of measurement displayed in search results (metric or imperial) as well as your default language. You can also anonymously save all of your preferences to the cloud with a simple passphrase (no account necessary).

Originally, I wanted to give duckDuckGo a shot because it is a privacy minded alternative to Google, which is notorious for exploiting your privacy. I was willing to forgo some of the wonderful features of Google in order to ensure my privacy. Yet I found that duckDuckGo not only matches much of the great functionalities of  Google, but actually adds many more features to my search experience that Google simply does not offer.

If you want a Google clone with the addition of privacy, you might find duckDuckGo a bit lacking and are probably better off using something like startpage. If you want something a little different and are willing to learn the intricacies of duckDuckGo (which is very easy), then you are well on your way to a superior search experience.

I’ve tried to cover as many key features as possible, but there is honestly so much more I could not fit into this blog post. I suggest trying duckDuckgo as your default search engine for a couple weeks and really explore all it’s features. You have nothing to lose and you might just find your new favourite search engine.